During the weeklong celebration of Passover, Hillel offered a temporary dining service for Northwestern’s Jewish community members looking for alternative kosher meals. Those celebrating Passover in quarantine without reliable access to kosher foods called the initiative was a welcome relief.
The kosher dining service, a joint effort between Hillel and Northwestern Dining, provided options including bread and other food items without yeast that were appropriate for students who observe Passover. The meal service is also open to any student who signs up to receive a meal free of charge.
“We know how limiting Passover can feel when there’s not accessible food nearby, so our hope is that you have these items on-hand in your dorm, house or apartment for pick-me-ups, breakfasts and just to have around,” Hillel Director of Student Life Becca Haas wrote in a March 25 email to organization members.
Weinberg freshman Lev Rosenberg said he picked up five meals from Hillel during Wildcat Wellness — the spring quarantine period for students living on campus.
As a vegetarian eating kosher, his options are limited, Rosenberg said, especially since he could not leave to pick up meals off-campus while in quarantine.
“I could have just eaten a lot of matzah and cream cheese in my dorm,” Rosenberg said, “but the (Hillel) food was actually really good. They had vegetarian options and sides and dessert.”
Michael Simon, Hillel’s executive director, said making a dining hall completely kosher would take much more effort than transforming a space like Hillel, which also has access to kosher caterers.
This year, Hillel staff arranged for students to pick up hot lunches and dinners through a contact-free line that runs through the building.
Additionally, Hillel reimbursed students who hosted their own socially distanced meals at home, including Seder, the first ceremonial dinner of Passover. Hillel also provided Seder plates and other items to students who requested them.
“On a normal year, we actually usually host multiple Seders,” Simon said. “We would be having kosher for Passover lunches and dinners in the Hillel building every day.”
When preparing for this year’s Passover, Simon put surveys through Hillel’s channels to see what services Jewish students wanted. Last year, when Hillel put out calls for Seders, most students had left campus to be with their families, so the need was not as great as he expected.
This year, Simon said he saw a larger need for kosher meals because Passover landed on the weekend that students were coming back from Spring Break.
“We didn’t want to host a virtual thing just for the sake of saying, we hosted a virtual thing,” Simon said. “We’ve leaned into the opportunity to be providing students with the actual food and sustenance during Passover.”
Communication freshman Craig Carroll said the Hillel meals made him feel more at home while celebrating his first major Jewish holiday at college and in quarantine.
Passover is his favorite celebration because it centers community gatherings, Carroll said.
“I get to see a lot of family and friends on Passover, and obviously that didn’t really happen this year,” he said. “But going to Hillel and seeing other people (in line) was a really good alternative.”